High School Students Experience STEM in Action in UTK Summer Program

Achievement date: 

High school students of diverse age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds were able to experience hands-on, instructional engineering education from collegiate underclassmen, graduate researchers, and expert professors in a summer Young Scholars (YS) program conducted by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK). Lessons in the program span a variety of electrical engineering concepts with one application in common: renewable energy technology in the interconnected power grid. The YS program is sponsored by the Center for Ultra-Wide-Area Resilient Electric Energy Transmission Networks (CURENT), an NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC) supported by NSF and the U.S. Department of Energy and headquartered at UTK, with partner organizations including Northeastern University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Tuskegee University.


The YS summer program shows a diverse cohort of promising high school students interested in electrical engineering the reality of an obtainable and rewarding career in STEM. It gives students the chance to perform research with UTK faculty and graduate students in campus laboratories. Students were able to learn advanced electrical engineering concepts using hands-on instrumentation in several activities. Through personal interaction with faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates, YS students are inspired to consider post­secondary education as an avenue to realize their goals. The program also includes and a variety of other experiences, including lectures, videos, live demonstrations, games, field trips to industry (e.g., a not-for-profit corporation responsible for operating New York state's bulk electricity grid). After several years of revision and iteration, CURENT’s YS program evolved its curriculum into a memorable experience yielding unprecedented qualitative and quantitative results.


CURENT works with partner high schools to recruit talented rising high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors as YSs in the Center's research labs. Students spend 6-8 hours each day on the UTK campus over a four-week period. For their principal activity, students work with faculty and graduate students to conduct research projects. Most research topics available are on electrical engineering or computer science, though occasionally other topics are available, like nanomaterial development and biomedical engineering. The selection of topics each semester depends on the availability of students and faculty. Among recent YS projects students conducted with UTK mentors are:

  • Pyroelectric-Based Sleep Apnea Detection System for Premature Infants
  • Exploring the Factors of Energy Efficiency: How do energy practices, smart grid technology adoption, dwelling characteristics, and demographics affect energy efficiency?
  • Mechanical Properties of Metallic PLA
  • Following your Heart(beat)
  • Design PCB (Printed Circuit Board) for LED Running Light Circuit
  • Day Ahead Dispatch for the Micro-grid using MATLAB
  • Building a Solar-powered USB power bank

The Young Scholars program is designed to first help capable young people develop an interest in careers related to electrical power and energy systems. Young Scholars will later be encouraged to attend universities affiliated with CURENT and given priority for the Center’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates opportunities, followed by opportunities for graduate fellowships.